Toronto to New York, 2019
I left Toronto on the 8am train.
When I pulled out of the station it was clear and sunny, and the horizon was striped with grey and gold as the sun rose – looking like a stencil as it faded. I tried to sketch the image of the city into my mind as the train huffed and panted, and we drifted further and further away; it was a long time before it was gone.
I didn’t really want to leave this city. But I like going somewhere, and I like leaving a place behind. I was nestled in my seat, settling into the weird vortex of time that is extensive train travel. I had two oranges rolling around in the empty seat next to me. My broken phone was taped and cracked, and reflecting light around the carriage. My bag was full of novels I didn’t want to leave in Montreal. My suitcase was rattling left and right in the luggage compartment, identifiable by its peeling stickers, and the Canadian landscape was gliding past my window. There were tiny white flecks floating by dreamily in the sun.
I had planned to do things on this trip. But even when the last recognisable thing in my eye line was gone, I started thinking about home, and Montreal, and the snow, and a boy, and how trains always seem to keep the tempo of whatever song you’re listening to. That’s what I like about them. If your headphones break, it’ll keep time with your heartbeat.
I pressed play on Half the World Away by Aurora and I never hit pause. Her voice filled my head. She was singing about wanting to leave, and leaving, and feeling lost – but it was beautiful and hopeful too. The quiet piano seemed to perfectly accompany the landscape that was soaring by. The song was fuelling the train. “She can speak for me” I told my tired brain as I rested my forehead on the window.
At the other end of this trip was the promise of somewhere else. But I liked wherever I was then. The in-between-ness seemed right, and tuneful.
Outside, the magnificent sky was looming over vast shimmering lakes. There was light skimming over the layer of trees, and water that had absorbed a day of sunlight; all of it becoming a blur that moved with the train in a blinding hazy glow. Clouds were slowly encompassing the enormous blue. Silent ripples from the water wound their way around the legs of stoic birds. I kept my curtains open while others tugged theirs closed and Aurora and I sailed into the afternoon. At a certain point, the light went out. It was 3 o’clock, 4 o’clock, 5.
In my ears, Aurora was singing.
So here I go, I’m still scratching around in the same old hole,
And here I was, going!
So what do you say? You can’t give me the dreams that are mine anyway,
People began to fill up the train at every stop – people with enormous, bulging bags, of every kind and colour. A large woman wearing an entirely fishnet outfit squeezed herself into a seat in front of me. Water bottle after water bottle rolled down the aisle, making little crackling noises as they went. Crackle, drip, crackle, sloosh.
What is it about trains? You take your seat and the day goes by. It just goes.
When we got to the border I ate both my oranges with the urgency of a raccoon. There was a tired line, a dog on a leash, a passport stamp, a cramped elevator, a brief flash of sunlight on my face, then the train carriage interior again. The wheels rumbled, and I fumbled with my headphones.
I like being in transit. I like feeling utterly weightless and gliding into the unfamiliar – time was suspended on this train and I was hanging in space. As the lights shifted and dimmed, I began to see myself in the window. Every time I would catch my reflection in the window, I’d tell myself: “Darling, it’s good to go”. And every time the music rose and fell I felt my heart swoop a little.
Tiny windows began to peek out at the passing train from far off houses. They were casting visions of pale grey and gold into the carriage. Beside me a man was sucking on a cough drop. In the distance, there were mountains coloured in grey, sleek and tall. The sun was going down and a little brown bear loped across a field into a splash of trees.
You’re half the world away
They were lots of people who were currently half the world away from me. Everyone at home, all the people I’d left behind, various friends that were settling back into their regular lives that were so separate from my own it was like they hardly existed anymore. I felt like I was half the world away from everyone in the world who wasn’t on this train.
I arrived in New York after 13 hours and 35 minutes, to the music of Grand Central Station, having stared out the window the whole time, replaying the same song over and over in my head and on my phone. The day ended in darkness, against a backdrop of navy skies and black water. Lights were forming flowing shapes of orange, grey and white; they were dots and lines. They hid behind the horizon and then emerged out of watchful streetlamps.
It had been long. It had been unbelievably short.
The sky was almost entirely devoid of stars but the air was warm. My dad and sister were waiting for me in New York when I arrived.